Why Music Therapy for Individuals with Diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum?

The literature reports that most individuals with autism respond positively to music (DeMyer, 1974; Edgerton, 1994; Euper, 1968; Snell, 1996; Thaut, 1992).

How Does Music Therapy Make a Difference for Individuals with Diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum?

Individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum may display “qualitative impairments in social interaction and communication” and often manifest “restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities.” Delays and/or abnormal functioning usually occur before age 3 and may be marked by a lack of symbolic or imaginative play as well. (Diagnostic Statistical Manual- IV, pp. 70-71).

Music therapy can be effective in addressing the typical characteristics of autism listed above in the following ways:

Check out this video about Music Therapy and Autism

What Do Music Therapists Do?Music therapists provide direct or consultative services. They work individually or in small groups, using a variety of music and techniques to engage children and adults with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. They involve clients in singing, listening, moving, playing instruments, and creative activities in a systematic, prescribed manner to influence change in targeted responses or behaviors and help clients meet individual goals and objectives. They create a musical, familiar environment that encourages positive interpersonal interaction and allows clients freedom to explore and express themselves. They utilize music that is preferred by and reinforcing to clients and is appropriate for ages, cultures, and environments in which the clients interact.Music therapists are trained professionals who accept referrals, observe clients’ behavior and interactions, and assess their behavioral/psycho-social/emotional, communication/language, perceptual/ and sensory/motor, cognitive/academic, and musical skills. After designing realistic goals and target objectives to address identified needs, music therapists plan and implement individualized music therapy treatment programs with strategies, procedures, and interventions to develop skills necessary to achieve an optimum level of success or quality of life for individuals with diagnoses of the autism spectrum. Music therapists document client responses, conduct ongoing evaluations of progress and performance, and make recommendations for future consideration. They often work as team members in conjunction with families and professionals to best address each individual’s needs. Music therapists may also make recommendations to team members and families regarding ways to include successful music therapy techniques in other aspects of clients’ lives.

Is There Research to Support Music Therapy for Individuals with Diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum?

Through peer-reviewed journals inside the profession such as Music Therapy, the Journal of Music Therapy, Music Therapy Perspectives, and extensive articles in journals outside the profession, AMTA has promoted much research exploring the benefits of music therapy with individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. A research bibliography of select articles and publications is available from AMTA for those interested in specific research examples.

You can also check out this document.  It is a document from The Clearinghouse on Autism and Evidenced Based Practices outlining a number of different interventions.  MT is noted on pg 92-93.  

--Text courtesy of the American Music Therapy Association